Photographer's Note

I must admit, it was a big leap of faith on my part to cross the border to Iraq. I had spent months reading news both in western and Iraqi media and internet forums, trying to find the balance between “Kurdistan is very safe” and “change your plans”.

Iraqi Kurdistan was one of the safest places in the world, definitely the safest in Iraq a few months earlier when I booked my flight back home from Erbil. On 6 August Kurdistan was attacked by the Islamic State. The British Foreign Office issued advice against all travel to Erbil and surrounding areas. All foreigners living and working in the capital of Kurdistan rushed for the airport… The attack triggered US-lead air strikes which pushed the Islamic State fighters back. But on the Foreign Office website the map of Kurdistan remained orange which stands for “advice against all but essential travel”.

The truth is, until you go there you don’t really know. And I was too curious to give up.

This is the first photo I took upon arrival in Erbil. You couldn’t imagine a more peaceful place. During the whole of my stay in that country I noticed that people were slightly concerned and listened to the news a lot (I don’t understand much of the language but the word “Kobani” was frequently heard) but were generally confident that their national army (the peshmerga) will defend them.

However, I did see some signs of the war. At one of the checkpoints between the Turkish border and Erbil the peshmerga ordered an Arab family to get off the bus I was on. They stayed, we continued to the capital. I remember a 10-12 year old girl, clutching a soft toy, standing by the bus, watching the driver unloading her family’s suitcases. I will never forget the look on her face – the weary mixture of disbelieve and fear. It often happens the peshmerga stop Arabs arriving into the country under the suspicion of them being IS supporters and potential terrorist threat.

Several terrorist plots were unfoiled, very few were successful. This very week, over a month after I had left Kurdistan, I read in the news that a car bomb exploded very close to the place you can see in this photo. It killed four people and injured several more.

In WS a couple of completely different images. But please remember that those are not signs of the war. In Kurdistan military presence is constantly visible, war or no war. And every man owns some sort of gun. At the same time, gun crime is non-existent.

There is an interesting aerial view of this square here. A shot I would have loved to take as well but the citadel was closed for renovation with no access to the viewpoint.

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Additional Photos by Kasia Nowak (kasianowak) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1579 W: 9 N: 3207] (16656)
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